Children's Book of the Month: To Wee or Not To Wee!
Book: To Wee or Not To Wee! by Pamela Butchart; illustrated by Thomas Flintham | Age category 8-11 years
23 April 2016 marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, but can he still speak to children today? If you’re looking for a way to introduce kids to the Bard’s best known plays, there couldn’t be a better place to start than Pamela Butchart’s To Wee or Not To Wee!
In this hilarious collection of retellings, Izzy from the Baby Aliens series acts as our storyteller, introducing her classmates, and the children reading along, to Macbeth, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet.
From the T-Rex mask Juliet was wearing the night she met Romeo, to Lady Macbeth’s order for her servants to peel 100 grapes for their banquet, To Wee or Not To Wee! is full of funny little details that bring these classic stories to life for younger readers. Thomas Flintham’s illustrations are woven into the text and each story is presented with a handy list of the main characters to watch out for, making this a very accessible read and a fantastic way to kickstart a lifelong love of Shakespeare.
We have 5 copies of To Wee or Not To Wee to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer this question:
Name a play written by Shakespeare
Q&A with Pamela Butchart
As a retelling of Shakespeare plays, this book is quite different from the other books in the Baby Aliens series. How did you come to write it and how did you decide which plays to include?
I was asked by the BBC if I would like to do a retelling of a Shakespeare play for the BBC School Radio Shakespeare Retold project. I chose Macbeth because I just LOVE the spookiness of the witches and all the ghosty stuff (and Lady Macbeth is a brilliant character!).
Shakespeare can be tricky to understand and identify with when you're at primary school, so I decided to write it from the point of view of an eight-year-old telling her classmates the story.
Hamlet can never make his mind up about ANYTHING and has been at uni for about twenty years and thinks he MIGHT want to become a hairdresser
My publisher (Kate) and editor (Kirsty) at Nosy Crow both really enjoyed my retelling and suggested I do a whole BOOK of Shakespeare retellings and that Tom illustrate them. I've probably never said YES so quickly to anything if my life! Tom's illustrations are BRILLIANT. Completely hilarious (especially the cat bridesmaids!). He's a genius.
I chose to do Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are my favourites.
I was able to have a lot of fun with Romeo and Hamlet's characters. Hamlet can never make his mind up about ANYTHING and has been at uni for about twenty years and thinks he MIGHT want to become a hairdresser. And Romeo is so soppy (and a bit weird) that he makes Juliet an engagement ring using only his own hair and decides HE'S going to be the one to walk down the aisle at their wedding.
There's also quite a few buffets, bridesmaid cats, dinosaur masks and lots of other bonkers stuff that pops up in the book. Writing To Wee or Not to Wee! is honestly the most fun I've EVER had writing!
Did you enjoy reading Shakespeare when you were at school?
No. Not at all. But that wasn't because the stories aren't BRILLIANT (they ARE, obviously!) it was because I didn't understand Shakespeare's plays very well as a child.
The language was a huge barrier for me. I never experienced texts that felt accessible or that connected me to the excitement and drama of the stories and characters. Shakespeare didn't feel very relevant to me as a child. I tried to keep that in mind when I was writing To Wee or Not to Wee!, linking each play's themes to the drama of an 8-10 year old's life.
If I had known as a child how BRILLIANT Shakespeare's plays are and that they were full of witches, blood, magic (and a man called Bottom!) I would have BEGGED to hear more!
Do you have a favourite Shakespeare adaptation?
I really enjoyed the retellings by the other authors who took part in the BBC Schools Radio Shakespeare Retold project - they're all FAB! Andy's Stanton's King Lear made me LOL and Frank Cottrell Boyce's retelling of The Tempest is brilliant (the sound effects are awesome!). And (this is so cool) Garth P Jones made the main characters DOGS in his retelling of The Taming of the Shrew (love it!).
And finally, why is there so much lasagne in Hamlet?
I find food in books really funny and interesting. I mean, take Hamlet's dad for example. He OBVIOUSLY had a favourite food and a favourite colour and a favourite pair of pants, so why not explore this and make his character a little more accessible to young people? It's fun! I don't really have a favourite colour now or a favourite food, but I DEFINITELY DID when was a child. What someone's 'favourites' might be was the first thing I thought about when I met someone new or was introduced to a character in a book.
I always needed to know the details when I was a child. And I ALWAYS wanted to know what people were having for their tea. In fact, I still DO. I often email my publicist, Dom, to tell him what I had for my tea and ask him what he's having. He gets it. Eight year-old me would NEED to have known what Hamlet's Dad's favourite food was, or what type of food was served at Macbeth's feast and what mask Juliet wore to the masked ball (obvs it was a T-Rex mask).
I think food in books can be really funny, and 'funny' can really help reluctant readers connect with a book and enjoy a great story.